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Columns

January 20, 2007

The Heelys craze calls for balance

There is no way I could walk a mile in my daughter’s shoes.



Like millions of kids around the world, she is addicted to Heelys, the hybrid skate-sneakers with a removable wheel in each heel. She got them for Christmas after pining over them for months, and she has been alternately clomping and gliding across our hardwood floors ever since.



Sold in more than 60 countries, from Andorra to Zimbabwe, the shoes are an international phenomenon that shows no sign of slowing down. But as sales increase, so does the controversy. Heelys have been banned from schools and shopping malls because of safety concerns, and a Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization called W.A.T.C.H. (World Against Toys Causing Harm Inc.) placed them at the top of its 2006 list of the 10 worst toys.



I first saw Heelys in September 2003, when some kids from California who were visiting the area stopped by our garage sale and amazed us by gliding down the driveway on their sneakers. It has taken a while for the trend to reach Oneonta, but it is definitely here. "I see so many kids with those things," said a checkout clerk at a local supermarket, which, from a kid’s perspective, is the perfect venue for "heeling," with its long aisles and smooth floors.



My daughter says at least 10 of the 21 kids in her fourth-grade class have Heelys. The shoes come with a wheel-removal tool and a heel plug that is inserted into the hole where the wheel was, converting the skates to regular sneakers. Students aren’t allowed to use the wheels on school grounds _ but they still wear the shoes, often decorated with colorful laces.



Part extreme sport, part hot toy, part clothing trend _ there’s no question, Heelys are unique. They’re a toy you can wear, and that gives them far greater mass appeal than the Rubik’s cubes and Jordache jeans of my elementary school days. "They’re addictive," my daughter says. "Once you learn how to heel, it’s just like, `Wow, this is so fun. I want to do this all day!’"

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